Posts Tagged With: Colin Angus

Come Walk With Me

022Besides being good for the constitution and daily mental digestion, walking is the best balm there is. And now I can hop on the Grand Trunk Trail, part of the Trans Canada link and wend my way to work. Yes, spoiled indeed.

Seven year and four score ago, when I lived on the Grand River in Dunnville, Ontario, I began walking to my massage biz (13km one way). I weathered three winters and sloppy springs (and 17 farm dogs that liked to give chase) on a bike and needed a change. My then nosey neighbour, Ingrid, finally summoned up the courage to ask me her most burning question. “So, when did you lose your license?”

I never lost my license. But, if you live in Dunnville AND walk or ride a bike, clearly you’ve been slapped with a DUI. I was flabbergasted that Ingrid had come to such a conclusion, and then quickly realized that the whole of Dunnville probably thought the same.

Now, as I walk to work at Langdon Hall Country Hotel & Spa along the Blair Road (a measly 8km), co-workers slide to a dust-cloud stop on the gravel shoulder and wave me to their vehicles. I catch up and pant, “I’m okay! I’m happy to walk!” (Although, I did pass my shoulder bag off to Christina on one occasion. Later that day she confessed that she drives to the Tim’s drive-thru just a block from her house. Walking is not her je ne sais quoi.)

She made me wonder about the possibility that I have Masai blood. I definitely felt a connection to the Kenyan flats and could, even today, in this lifetime, imagine a content life amongst cattle. Walking. Looking for the next viable watering hole. Allowing the sun to be my beacon, not a watch.

Other friends (not drive-thru Christina) insist that they too would walk further and longer, given the time. Kids can be a stick in the spoke, bringing such grand notions to a screech. Some dogs don’t even make walking feasible—RIP dear Mila. If I caught Mila post-breakfast (and pre-Coronation-Street-nap) she was generally cooperative and almost willing to wander through Clearbrook Park. Suggest a walk anytime after 3pm and Mila was a no-go. According to her dog watch, 3:00 was cutting it way too close for her to squeeze in a walk before her 4:15 kibble. Insert image of me mildly dragging Mila halfway around the park only to give in to her anxiousness minutes later. Insert following image of me having to keep up to her sudden gallop and renewed energy to get back to the house in anticipation of dinner.
home-toronto-amster-nairobi 740

I’ve always walked. I think I missed the bus every other day in high school, mostly due to socializing. I had no qualms—it allowed me the excuse and pleasure to cut through West Brant and hop on the tracks and follow the rail line home. It was probably 10km—but I found cheerleaders in accompanying chickadees and cicadas. The soundtrack of that walk was outstanding. It was a pleasant departure from the bus and the reek of someone’s token tuna sandwich. Because of our “remote” location in the country, my siblings and I were the first ones on the bus and the last ones off. I’d rather be walking.

I even love books about walking. At night I have Karsten Heuer-like fantasies. Heuer and his wife, Leanne Allison, followed the migration of a 125,000 member herd of endangered Porcupine Caribou for five months across the Yukon and Alaska. Heuer chronicled their 1,500km slog across the tundra to the calving grounds in Being Caribou.

I have Colin Angus fantasies too. The steely tendoned adventurer self-propelled his way around the world in Beyond the Horizon, clocking in 43,000km on bike and row boat from Alaska to Siberia to Portugal to Costa Rica to Vancouver, in a round-a-bout way (which only involved 4,000 chocolate bars and 72 inner tubes).

Shirley Maclaine’s The Camino revved me up even more. Maclaine walked the 600km pilgrimage route across Spain, her very marrow vibrating with the ley lines and their juxtaposition to the Milky Way. Surely, if Shirley could do it, we can too. Kim and I are eyeing this journey in a few years, so reading Maclaine’s experience was like rifling through a diary of secrets for me.

The Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago) traces the route of the pilgrims to the burial place of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. Though I don’t have a Christian bone in my body, walking and sharing The Way with Kim will be marked with a parallel gratitude. The meditation and marvel for me will revolve around how we can design such miraculous experiences in our lives— simply by saying “let’s do it. We can make it happen.’
This weekend urban romantics around the world will be celebrating the vision of Jane Jacobs (author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities). “Jane’s Walks” are held annually to revisit her pioneer notion of walkable, sustainable, lively cities—something her 1961 book about urban life and redevelopment poured the foundation for. Walking is the framework of communities!

As George Macauley Trevelyan mused, “After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value.”
Where will you walk today?

Categories: Home Sweet Home | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Digging a Hole To China

I’m surprised Colin Angus didn’t succeed in digging a hole to China when he was a kid, because the guy is an unstoppable force. And if it were possible to find China in a sandbox, he would have done it. A few times.

Angus has defied death more than once, voluntarily putting himself in situations that test not only the human spirit, but survival itself. In 1999, Angus, South African Scott Borthwick and Australian Ben Kozel decided to take on the world’s most dangerous white water. After hiking 200 km from the Pacific Ocean to the South American Continental Divide, the team located the trickling source of the Amazon and followed it 7,200 km to the Atlantic in a rubber raft. They did it in five months with little fanfare at the end of such an epic challenge. In his book  Amazon Extreme, Angus recounts dodging bullets  spit off by the Sendero Lumineso, a left wing terrorist group in Peru as they paddled through the “Red Zone.” The gunfire was the least of their worries considering they lost all their cooking equipment when the raft turtled early in the trip. Documentary film footage shows Angus expertly using a broken shovel blade as a frying pan to cook the rice and dried beans that were their vital (and only)food source for the trip. 

hollywoodOn Monday, Colin Angus and his wife, Julie (nee Wafaei), joint recipients of the 2007 National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year  award, were at the Hollywood Theater in Vancouver to promote their upcoming Tribal Journey. The Nisga’a Tribe has invited the couple to join them on a 220 km journey from North Vancouver to Squamish this July. For Julie, the first woman to row unsupported across the Atlantic from mainland to mainland, 220 km has to be a stroll in the park. A short float in a boat.

Fittingly, Colin and Julie met at a public transit bus stop in 2003. I suppose they agreed that time was being wasted waiting for buses as the lean and driven couple decided to take on the world—propelling themselves by human power alone just one year later.

Colin Angus squeezed in a mini-trip before this, deciding to conquer the fifth longest river in the world and navigate its entirety, simply because no one else had. He convinced his fellow Amazon paddler, Ben Kozel and a documentary filmmaker from Vancouver, Remy Quinter, to join him on his next voyage. Lost in Mongolia, Colin’s second book, chronicles the harrowing float from Mongolia, north to Siberia and onward to the Arctic Ocean. It quickly becomes a desperate page turner, pulling readers chapter to chapter to find out if everyone survives. The grittiest bits of the book unfold when Colin becomes separated from Remy and Ben.  When their raft overturns in the violent waters of a flash flood, Colin attempts to retrieve a lost bag of film. Colin is swept away with the current as well. His effort is in vain and when he pulls up on shore, he is left waiting. And waiting. For 12 days, with no shirt, no shoes (and no service!), no passport, food rations or clean drinking water—Colin succumbs to a delirious state with few options or answers. Did Ben and Remy pass by him already? Was there a split in the channel that he didn’t  see?  Colin opted to continue on, alone, hoping his teammates were waiting for him in Hutag, a village 100 km downstream. Concerned nomads nourished him with yak’s milk tea and horsemeat after finding him nearly skeletal and spent.

(Colin wrote about this unexpected separation and the havoc it wreaked on his mental state in magnetic detail for Explore magazine; the article appears on the Angus Adventures site–

placardIt was in June 2004 that Colin took on the world. He began the unfathomable odyssey with journalist Tim Harvey, but ended it with his then fiancée, Julie. Before reaching Moscow, Harvey and Angus were butting heads, and much of their fiery clash is documented (from Colin’s perspective) in Beyond the Horizon. Harvey found his own way around the world, choosing to travel through Africa and South America before his return.  He joined Angus from Vancouver to Alaska and across the angry Bering Sea to the unwelcoming embrace of the dark Siberian winter where they rode bikes across the frozen tundra to Moscow. A wind chill of -30 was considered a pleasant day.  Julie arrived for the last and critical leg from Moscow to Lisbon by bike, followed by four months at sea, crossing the unfriendly Atlantic (over 10,000 km). But they didn’t stop there. Colin and Julie biked from Costa Rica to Vancouver, bringing Colin’s adventure to a close after a jaw-dropping 43,000 km. The first human-powered circumnavigation of the world title belonged to Colin Angus. Rowing across two oceans and trekking through 17 countries and surviving every possible mishap, starvation, hallucination-inducing thirst, altitude sickness, trench foot, a urethra stricture that required surgery and a slight case of cabin fever.

So, how do you pack for two years, for the landscapes that will take you from temperatures of bone-shattering -50 to a blistering heat of +40? In part, they packed 4,000 chocolate bars, 72 bike inner tubes, 250 kg dried food, 31 dorado fish and 80 kg of clothing from bikinis to ski gear. And somehow, in the middle of Atlantic, between storm fronts, Colin managed to make birthday pancakes for Julie with strawberry jam and whipped cream.

The documentary Beyond the Horizon left me slightly claustrophobic even in the great dimensions of the Hollywood Theater. Colin and Julie spent four months in a specially designed row boat in a cabin that appeared to be smaller than a public washroom stall. Due to the close quarters of their cabin, they actually fashioned protective head gear out of stuffed nylons to prevent head injury from the turbulent storm waters.  There were relentless hurricanes that created swells reminiscent of The Perfect Storm—which didn’t instill as much fear as Julie expressed when they were nearly clipped by a freighter ship due to their diminutive size, bobbing about in the Atlantic unseen.

Colin apologized at the beginning of the double-screening of Amazon Extreme and Beyond the Horizon for the amateur camera work, but the sometimes shaky camera and dialogue (that often gets blown away with the high winds  found at 18,000 feet elevation in the Andes) created two documentaries with a focus on the emotions and energy of the teams–not the budget. I was glad to finally have the visuals to accompany the  books I have read with white- knuckled anxiety over the years.

And there’s more. Julie has published her own account of the Atlantic exploit in Rowboat in a Hurricane. Written with a female spin and the mind of a microbiology grad, her book should prove to be as compelling as her counterpart’s. 

And still more…. in September 2008, Colin and Julie traced their ancestral roots and rowed from northern Scotland to Syria. This was a mere 7,000 km, seven month trip through an interconnected route of canals and roads (where they pulled out  bikes from their amphibious vessels) across 13 countries. Rowed Trip, a book they co-wrote is to be released this fall.

And I thought my two and a half hour commute into Vancouver to see the documentaries was epic—4km on foot, 70km on Greyhound (with a sketchy seat mate), Skytrain, public transit bus and on foot again to the theater on West Broadway with a buttery spinach pie and hockey puck of honey halva in my hand from the Greek bakery.

The question is, how will Colin and Julie keep topping themselves? I can imagine their morning conversation over just-picked dandelion tea in Victoria.

Colin—“What should we do today, honey?”
Julie—“I dunno. How ‘bout we bike to Winnipeg for dinner?”

Colin—“There’s that place in Portland we’ve talked about, you know, with the all-you-can-eat soft-shelled crab on Friday nights?”

Julie—“Okay, but only if we can row back on the Pacific, I’ve got yoga at noon tomorrow with Jamie.”

Really, I can’t imagine them sitting in for a quiet night of take-out pizza and a movie. How sloth-like.  How unadventurous.

Prepare to be stunned by the inspirational stories of Colin and his wiry match, Julie.  The obstacles they battle head-on showcases their raw courage, titanium nerves and enviable determination.

Reading about the vicious tropical storms, being lost, lurking crocodiles, cracked and bleeding lips, Siberian snow hitting bare skin like knives—all of this will take away your right to ever complain again.

And their message to the audience?

Ride a bike. Not necessarily 7,000 km, but at least to the bloody corner store.

cropped angusFor inspiration visit–

For more about Tribal Journeys: woman

Categories: Flicks and Muzak, On My Bookshelf | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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